Medical Center union signs contract after near-unanimous rejection over the summer

Votes reverse after pay and health benefits improve.

By Asher Klein

Teamsters 743 accepted a contract offer by the Medical Center early this month, with roughly 700 union members voting. The contract was approved by two-thirds of the voters.

The union, which represents nearly 1,400 maintenance, clerical, and service staff at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC), rejected the first contract offer in early August. The recent vote “ends several weeks of contract negotiations and more than 20 bargaining sessions,” according to a UCMC press release.

The union rejected the previous offer due to disagreements over pay raises, health insurance coverage, and the subcontracting of work to non-union members. Only the first two points were addressed in the new contract.

“We feel that our members are professionals, they know the system, they know the hospital, and, in many cases, they know the patients,” said union spokesman J Burger after rejecting the first contract in August. “There’s no reason for them to subcontract out the work.”

Union members will see a 2-percent increase in pay each year for the next two years, and a 3-percent raise in 2011; raises were previously restricted to senior members. The union will also see a moderate increase in insurance co-payments.

“The negotiations—while not accomplishing all that the bargaining committee wanted—did win significant improvements since the previous vote,” wrote union leaders in a letter to members, advising them to approve the deal. Union representatives were unavailable for comment this week.

Union members overwhelmingly rejected the University’s first offer, with 744 of 795 votes against the contract. It was “the largest turnout in a number of years,” Burger said after that vote.

The Medical Center cut its budget by $100 million last year and fired 450 employees, citing decreased revenues due to the failing economy.

“In addition to the lost revenue due to the recession, there’s the obligation to restore the endowment; there are things like pensions and malpractices,” UCMC spokesman John Easton said. “There are a number of obligations that the Medical Center faces that not all people are aware of or are giving sufficient weight to.”